Alternative rock

Love Gloom – Night Riots

Release Year: 2016

Rating: 8/10

Night Riots stole my heart when I saw them live with Blaqk Audio earlier this year. Their fusion of synth pop, rock, and electronic made their music irresistible. I picked up their 2015 EP Howl right away and impatiently waited for their debut album, Love Gloom. I was a bit surprised when I finally got my hands on it; it has a different vibe, mood, and feel than their previous release. It’s not drastically different, but there are some changes.

For one thing, Howl is upbeat, fun, and danceable the whole way through. But Love Gloom allows the band to explore other sounds and avenues. There are still insanely catchy jams like the popular “Contagious” and “Work It.” The latter isn’t Travis Hawley’s best singing effort, he sounds a bit too stained, but the song is still bouncy and fun. “Nothing Personal” is another catchy track blistering with lust and desire. Hawley has a vampiric presence and this comes out best on this song when he sings lines like “Numb yourself and think of me” or “I’ll be the king, you’ll be the filth/I’ll wash away.” It sounds like he’s trying to hypnotize us. It’s one of the most gripping and catchy songs on the album.

Aside from this, the rest of the album is kind of slow and melancholic. Previously, the band described their music as “pop gloom” and that’s exactly what it is. “Fangs” is pretty upbeat, but steeped in darkness and the macabre. The hook pleads “So stick your fangs, fangs, fangs/into me” bringing up images of vampires, albeit sexy ones. Similar to their other songs, this one also drips with lust and desire – it’s something Night Riots effortlessly convey in a good chunk of their songs. It’s a sort of dark romanticism they explore on this track.

The excellent “Don’t Kill the Messenger” might as well be their love letter to Depeche Mode. The shuddering bass, booming drums, and somber guitars makes it sound like it was written for the iconic band. It also has a brooding nature that plays into their melancholic side. The track stands out for its more aggressive tone and heavy hitting nature. Everything gets more intense as the track continues. It has a big sound making it one of the most satisfying songs on the record. Plus, it’s pretty catchy. After one listen, the song will burrow itself in your head.

Breaking Free” is where we start to hear the band’s softer side on the album. It’s another stellar track filled with lush tones and atmospheric music that makes it feel like you’re under water. The rolling drums that occasionally pop up give it some extra flair. It’s another brooding track talking about breaking out of a relationship. Something about it is warm and relaxing even though the lyrics aren’t exactly the most uplifting: It’s beautiful, yet haunting quality makes it one of the highlights of the album.

As previous songs have shown, Night Riots take great inspiration from 80s music. It was all over their EP and it’s all over this album, but they use the New Wave influences in a subtle way. The ballad “All for You” has this big, 80s anthem vibe to it. The dreamy guitars, far away sound, and relaxing melody makes you think of Tears for Fears, who they’ve covered in concert. To keep the song from getting too dull, the bridge comes alive, bursting with guitar and drums. It’s a soft, sweet song about being there for one another. “Tear Me Apart” starts with a weird, stuttering synth that instantly grabs your attention. This song feels directly tied to the title: the mood is somber and gloomy as Hawley laments the end of a relationship. Some of it is cliché, like the lyric “Where does it start/where does it end/I’m losing my best friend/tear me apart,” but it’s pretty forgivable. The track also has this ghostly vibe to it with ethereal singing, other world music, and a cold vibe infiltrating the entire song.

This slow, doom-laden mood continues on tracks “Pull Me Down,” which has a Gothic quality to the lyrics and “Everything Will be Alright,” which is haunting and a little eerie as Hawley sings “lately I feel undone.” Though the songs are slower, the 80s synth elements aren’t abandoned. Rather they play smaller roles in the music popping in the background or playing softly to make the song come alive. Instead of being the focal point, they’re used to add to the song’s flavor and sound. Listeners get a break from the constant wave of gloom with the upbeat “End of the World,” which starts with more attention-grabbing synth that’ll get stuck in your head.

The closing track, “As You Are,” has elements that are likable along with some questionable bits. The opening is too slow and sappy for my tastes. Lines like “Don’t change for me/you got nothing to fix/you’re not broken” end up sounding a bit corny. But what saves the song is the beautiful, symphonic quality to it. As Hawley sings, strings swell up around him making the song pretty and heartbreaking. This paired with the way he croons “Meet me as you are” is enough to give you chills. It’s a somber song; Hawley sounds like he’s at the end of his rope, which makes the final line “I let you down/ betrayed you” hit even harder. It’s not the best track on the album, but it’s a fitting close.

Love Gloom wasn’t what I thought it was going to be. There weren’t as many upbeat, catchy, danceable songs as on their previous release. Yet, it remains a strong, thoughtful debut. The upbeat songs are still there, showing Night Riots know how to make you dance. But the slower tracks laden with darkness and of course, gloom, show another side of the band. The album is a melancholic affair; something you put on when the sky is grey and leaves start to fall. Some of it is brooding, some of it is fun, but the whole thing is honest. That’s part of what makes it so appealing. Many of the songs may not grip you right away, but if you give it a chance, you’ll find a great debut that’s not afraid of the darkness, which we all need to embrace from time to time.

Songs of Faith and Devotion – Depeche Mode

Release Year: 1993

Rating: 8/10

If you’ve been following the blog long enough, you know I’ve had a bad relationship with this album. Although it was a critically acclaimed follow up to Violator, I could never get into it. After repeated listens I thought it was boring, save for a handful of songs. While looking through my albums, I came across this one and thought maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it at the time. It did take me years to fully appreciate albums like The Cure’s Pornography. So I decided to give it one more and shot. Turns out I was wrong about this record.

What initially turned me off to this album was how it didn’t sound like the Depeche Mode I was used to. Where was the thrilling synth? Where were the danceable, yet sexy songs? They don’t completely abandon their electronic side, but they favor a rock oriented sound here. This is best heard on the opening track “I Feel You.” It’s the most straightforward rock song in their catalog. It has this great, sexy bluesy riff that wails while Dave Gahan coos “I feeeeeeeeel you/your sun it shines.” The music keeps building getting more intricate as the song goes on. Even though it’s pretty sensual, it still shows a harsher direction not previously found in their music.

I liked “Walking In my Shoes,” which starts with a jangly piano leading to hushed electronic sounding beats. Similar to the previous song, the music here sets up a darker landscape for the album. That says a lot for a band whose music is peppered with grim themes. This song also starts the numerous religious references on the album, which return on the next track “Condemnation.” I’m still not crazy about this song. I can appreciate it, especially since it sounds more like a gospel track, which was unique for the band at the time. It also boasts a great vocal performance from Gahan who sounds anguished and near tears while singing. There’s a lot of heartache and emotion behind it, which can be said for all the songs here. While I like the idea, I just don’t like the style.

What I found most interesting about the album is how morose and hopeless it sounds. Depeche Mode has never been shy with exploring dark feelings, but there’s usually some upbeat song to break up the mood. “Rush” is the closest it gets to something upbeat and danceable on this record. The rest of the tracks seem mired in misery. Even when addressing topics like love and needing someone else it sounds desperate, such as on “One Caress,” an excellent solo moment from Martin Gore. When listening to this album, you feel this sense of impending doom.

This morose mood continues on tracks “Higher Love” and “Mercy In You” where Gahan sounds like a vampire wanting to feed on the mercy in someone. Another stand out track, “In Your Room” is pretty sensual thanks to the intricate, lush music, but it still has dark connotations with references to slaves and being held captive by a lover. Though it’s more rock oriented, like most of the songs here, the sexy mood, intricate music, and Gahan’s powerful vocals make this a classic Depeche Mode track. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed from the album.

Judas” is notable for beginning with bagpipes to set a heavenly atmosphere. Gore’s on vocals here, so as usual, he has a way of making things sound creepy even if it’s not intentional. But for some reason, the song doesn’t hit the sweet spot like other Gore tracks. “One Caress,” which features his on vocals is actually the better of the two ballads. It begins with a riff that sounds like the opening of “Never Tear Us Apart.” This song stands out for the string composition. It adds this stark, dramatic vibe to the music. Though the song is about how good the touch of a loved one is, it still sounds unsettling with the music growing more and more intense. He’s sounds so desperate for it, it’s like he’s on edge and he’ll do anything to get that one caress. It’s a similar eerie vibe that worked for “I Want You Now.”

Unlike most of their past releases, this one is really slow, cathartic, and dark. Their music has always been moody and gloomy, but this one is downright heartbreaking. Considering the inner turmoil of the band and Gahan’s heroin problem, it makes sense why so many of the songs are gut wrenching. Some of the songs seem like they’re about Gahan. “Get Right With Me” starts out dark and creepy, but throws listeners for a loop with a random record scratch. It’s kind of off putting since it doesn’t fit the song, but it doesn’t last very long. The lyrics seem to talk about someone laying down what it’s going to take to get back in someone’s good graces: “Friends, if you’ve lost your way/ you will find it again.” This could be a reference to Gahan losing his way via drugs and Gore remaining hopeful he’ll get clean.It was a tough album to make according to the band and it shows in these songs.

So, do I still hate this album? No, now I realize I wrong about it. It’s not boring and dull. While it’s still not my favorite, I realize it’s a solid, introspective entry in their catalog. The songs may be different with their rock oriented sound and heavier vibe, but they remain gripping, thoughtful, and well-crafted like their previous efforts. Even if all the songs didn’t catch my attention the overall depressing mood of the record did make me reflect on what the band was going through at the time. With the sonic shifts and darker themes, it’s one of those albums that needs time for some to fully appreciate it. And I’m glad I can view the album differently. I don’t think I can say the same for Venus Doom.

The Crow: City of Angels OST

Release Year: 1996

Rating: 5.5/10

The soundtrack for the first Crow movie is often hailed as one of the best of not only the 90s, but of all time. It had big name artists from the grunge, rock, and alternative world who knew how to recreate the darkness of the film in music. The same can’t be said about its sequel. The movie was nowhere as good or riveting as the original and the soundtrack matches. With a less than stellar line up and songs that are just meh, it can’t even compare to the previous LP.

Part of what made the first soundtrack great were contributions from The Cure, Nine Inch Nails, and Rage Against the Machine to name a few. If you were hoping for artists of that caliber this time around, then you’ll be disappointed. There are a couple of well known acts, but it’s not enough to save this compilation. Hole’s cover of “Gold Dust Woman” isn’t bad, but as someone who’s not a fan of Hole, it didn’t do much for me. White Zombie’s “I’m Your Boogieman” is one of the standout tracks. Zombie and friends take this lame KC and the Sunshine band song and turn it into something groovy, yet spooky. Rather than waxing about a DJ who gets people dancing, Zombie talks about the Boogieman of your nightmares.

From there the songs aren’t bad, but fade into the background especially if you don’t like the artist. Filter’s “Jurassitol” has a cool opening bass line, but otherwise sounds like a mediocre grunge track. PJ Harvey’s “Naked Cousin” is interesting with its hard gritty vocals, but again doesn’t really do much, at least not for me. At least it’s more memorable than Bush’s cover of the Joy Division track “In a Lonely Place.” It starts off pretty good with the subdued, creepy music, but Gavin Bush’s vocals really kill the track. He’s too quiet and raspy for this type of song. He’s obviously trying to recreate the unnerving feel of the original, but misses the mark. While listening to it, I wished it was the actual Joy Division track the entire time.

Then there are the rap songs. I have nothing against rap and I actually like it when it’s good, but here it feels out of place. The previous soundtrack didn’t have any hip hop tracks; the closest it got was the contribution from Rage Against the Machine. The tracks “Tonight is a Special Night” and the closing number “City of Angels” stick out so bad it feels like a different record. The latter song is especially bad because it was written specially for the movie and has the lamest references jammed in there. Just look at this eye-rolling lyric: “I’m gonna revenge myself/like the crow.” Just in case you forgot what movie this was, Above the Law are going to remind you. And the song doesn’t get any better from there. It’s like one of those theme songs that tries to tell the story of the TV show. Maybe if the rap contributions were actually good it wouldn’t be so bad, but we’re stuck with some pretty shitty songs.

When you’re not listening to sloppy rap songs, you’re hearing second rate grunge acts. When the LP was released in 1996, the grunge phenomenon was pretty much over. The composers of this LP didn’t get the memo and gathered up bands who were still pushing out the music. Again, if the songs were actually any good, who cares what genre it falls in. But all these songs blend together making them forgettable. “Spit” by NY Loose (remember them? Neither do I) isn’t terrible, but ends up sounding like a Hole song, Seven Mary Three’s “Shelf Life” gets boring after the first verse, the Toadies’ “Paper Dress” has the same crunchy guitars and disinterested vocals. “Teething” by Deftones isn’t bad, but it’s definitely one of their rougher songs and sounds a bit disjointed.

One the surprising stand out tracks is “Knock Me Out” by Linda Perry and Grace Slick. The song is really slow and somber, but it’s Perry’s smokey vocals that really makes it come alive. She sounds so lovelorn and distraught as she’s singing. Then comes Grace Slick who has so much fire behind her voice. When put together, they have some of the most powerful harmonies. Their singing matched with the depressing music is enough to make you shed tears. It’s a shame that it’s buried on the album and should’ve been up way higher.

This soundtrack is nowhere near as good as the previous one. There are a couple of decent songs, but most of them are dull, mediocre, and sound too similar to one another. The LP feels disjointed at times especially when it comes to the rap tracks. They’re stuck in the middle and the end of the record which has established itself as being primarily alternative rock oriented. This one didn’t have as many heavy hitting musicians, but the previous entry had its share of unknowns as well. The difference is those bands that you didn’t recognize actually had good fucking songs. Here, they’re just okay. You don’t mind hearing them, but you wouldn’t want to hear them again. For the first soundtrack, every song felt like it belonged. Here, most of it felt like filler with a few stand out tracks. It’s best to steer away from this one.

Musical Quickie: Trust Fall (Side A) – Incubus

Release Year: 2015

Rating: 8/10

Incubus returns this year with two new EPs. The first one, Trust Fall, was released last month and it shows the band haven’t lost their touch. While it isn’t full of their strongest material, it’s miles better than what they did on their last studio album. There’s something to admire and cling to in all of the songs. The opening number “Trust Fall” is punchier and more energetic than most of the material from their 2011 LP. Something about it makes it feel like classic Incubus. The same can’t be said for “Make Out Party,” which is Incubus trying to be sexy and it’s a little weird. Brandon Boyd goes falsetto, which initially put me off the song. But the rest of the song grew on me, so I’ve learned to deal. At least he sounds good during the hook. Dealing with a carnal desire for a lover, some of the lyrics are laughable: “your honey spilt over, and now I am an army of ants/And we’re all thinkin’ the same thought/“Let’s get to work.” They may not put you in the mood, but at least the song is pretty good.

“Absolution Calling” catches your attention with the opening synth mixed in with their classic rock sound. The whole thing is upbeat, catchy, and marks a triumphant return to music. Personally, it reminded me why I like the band so much. The closing track “Dance Like You’re Dumb” is all about letting loose, having fun, and dancing even if you don’t know how. This is another song that’s full of energy and gets you jumping. Things get a little iffy during the bridge with distorted samples and soul singers. It just doesn’t fit in. The EP isn’t perfect, but it will get you excited for their next release. There’s a bit of experimentation, but it’s fun. You can hear how much fun the guys had while recording this and it puts you in a good mood.

Concert – The Cure

 

The_Cure_ConcertRelease Year: 1984

Rating: 6/10

The Cure have been around for a long time, so it’s only natural for them to have several live albums. With so many to choose from, it’s difficult to know where to begin. Their first live release seems like a good place to start, but what you’ll find is an underwhelming performance from the band. The setlist is pretty good and it even features live versions of songs they band rarely does, but it is far from their best live release.

The reason most Cure fans would be interested in this LP is it features songs they rarely do live, the main one being “Charlotte Sometimes.” For some reason I never really liked the song, but this version managed to win me over a little bit. Another treat is “Hanging Garden” from Pornography. It’s not the most exciting take on the single, but it is cool to hear in a different setting. Things get livelier on “Primary” where Smith sings a little melody after the line “The very first time I saw your face/I thought of a song and quickly changed the tune.” These aren’t the best renditions of these songs, but they’re among the best on the record.

The rest of the album is kind of dull. “Shake Dog Shake,” “Give Me It,” and “One Hundred Years” aren’t very notable, aside from an extended guitar solo every now and then. On songs like “The Walk” and “10:15 Saturday Night” Smith sounds bored, like he’s sick of touring (which may have been the case). It kind of sounds like he’s going through the motions, rather than trying to enjoy himself. The liveliest the band gets is on “Killing an Arab” and it’s not the best live version around. The album even ends abruptly after the last note is played, like they were ready to get off stage. It’s as if they didn’t care about the release and put as little effort in it as possible.

What makes other Cure live efforts so much fun is the way Smith’s personality manages to come through. There are times where he’ll add different inflections to his voice or just say something really silly to the crowd. Sometimes he gets across feelings of anger, sadness, and happiness just with his singing. Somehow he remains charming without having to see him. None of that is present on this release. Everything sounds dull, like they’re being forced to do it. On songs like “A Forest” you can almost see him rolling his eyes while he’s singing. He just sounds so uninterested in what he’s doing making for a lackluster release.

Overall, the album gets 6/10. Since this live LP wasn’t released in the US, it’s good for Cure collectors. The only reason it’s worth listening to is to hear some of their older songs in a live setting. Otherwise, the band sounds bored and dull on other tracks. It’s a shame they don’t sound better because the setlist is actually really good. To be fair this is their first live album. It’s very possible they were trying to improve their live performance. This also could’ve been taken from a bad show. When it comes to Cure live albums check out their later releases. They give a better representation of the band live.